Over the span of the past few weeks, the Mets have squandered an historically-great start to their 2018 season, turning legitimately decent playoff odds into extremely long ones. The mood around the team seems to be one of existential crisis, with even Sandy Alderson alluding to the next few weeks having the potential to shape the future of the franchise beyond this season.
A non-existent offensive portion of the roster that included Adrian Gonzalez until late Sunday night and still includes Jose Reyes for some reason has wasted a great stretch of pitching from the team’s starting rotation. Injuries have once again ravaged a roster that wasn’t built to sustain more than one at a time—and even that might be a generous assessment. The Daily News threw Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard into Yankees uniforms on its back page, a notion that shouldn’t have received any serious public attention but has kept the notion of trading one or both of those pitchers in the public discussion ever since.
The Mets are in a bad spot, clearly, but they can do a few things to reshape the perception of the team and—far more importantly—attempt to be a competitive team again as quickly and for as long as possible.
There are those who would support trading deGrom or Syndergaard for a boatload of excellent prospects, sticking only to the business side of things and thinking that blowing up the roster and starting almost completely over is the only path to success. Maybe they’ll end up being right in the long run, but the Mets could put an end to any trade speculation by doing something they’ve been incredibly hesitant to do with anyone and signing both pitchers to contract extensions.
As things currently stand, the team controls deGrom, who is earning a $7.4 million salary that’s far below market value this year, through the 2020 season. Syndergaard, who is controlled through 2021, is making just $2.975 million this year, also far, far below what he’d be worth on the open market. Both players will gets raises in their remaining years under Mets control, but they’ll both make a lot less than they would if they were able to hit the open market.
There’s always some risk for a team that extends a pitcher, but the Mets currently have zero dollars committed to their major league roster in 2021, which would be the first of any years they’d be buying out for deGrom. And that year will be deGrom’s age-33 season, which hardly makes him a spring chicken in the sport, but he won’t have accumulated all that much mileage on his arm after hitting the big leagues at the age of 26. And Syndergaard will be in his age-29 season in 2022, the first year that would need to be bought out in an extension.
Even if the Mets were to buy out just two years of free agency from both pitchers, pay them more than they’d make via the arbitration process in the years they already control, and pay them market rate in those first two years of free agency, it’d set them up with an outstanding top of the rotation. The contracts needn’t be even half as team-friendly as the ones that Madison Bumgarner and Chris Sale signed in their younger years to be good for the team.
And while the team isn’t anywhere near losing any of its young position players to free agency, similar extensions should at least be considered for Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and Amed Rosario, assuming Nimmo maintains anywhere near his current level of production or Rosario fully develops into the major league player everyone had hoped he would when he was one of the best prospects in baseball.
The thing to do: Sign deGrom and Syndergaard to extensions
By releasing Adrian Gonzalez, the Mets took one step in the right direction. Whether or not Dominic Smith was the right choice to get the call from the minors to take his place is another question, but at least the team did something.
It’s beyond time for the Mets to move on from Jose Reyes, who is hardly playing and isn’t doing anything well when he does. Perhaps that’ll happen when Wilmer Flores returns from the disabled list, but it shouldn’t have taken this long. And while Jose Bautista has held his own at the plate since joining the Mets, there shouldn’t be a whole lot of patience for keeping him on the roster if he starts to struggle.
The thing to do: Designate Jose Reyse for assignment
After spending the winter touting a revamped approach to health and medical issues, the Mets haven’t made any obvious changes to outside observers when it comes to those exact things. With players playing through injuries—Asdrubal Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce, and Todd Frazier are all examples from this season—that almost always get worse and lead to longer disabled list stints, things feel exactly how they’ve always felt over the past few years, if not longer.
The thing to do: Place Jay Bruce, Asdrubal Cabrera, and anyone else playing through an injury the rest of this season and beyond on the 10-day disabled list when symptoms appear
The assumption here is that the Mets will do none of these things, with Reyes’s DFA feeling like the most like possibility only because he’s been so bad. But if the team were to come out and make an announcement along these lines, they’d probably be looked at much differently:
We’re not happy with where we are right now, but we’re thrilled to announce that we have signed Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to contract extensions, and we intend to build around them for years to come. We’ve also designated Jose Reyes for assignment and placed Jay Bruce and Asdrubal Cabrera on the disabled list, where they’ll be given ample opportunity to recover before returning to action.
It’s sad that it feels like that sort of thing is so far from reality, and making that series of moves doesn’t guarantee future success for the franchise. But it sure would be nice to see the Mets give it a shot.